By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
Penguins in 4. Okay, you know what…Pens in 5. Fine, Pens in 6, final answer. Pens…in…seven?
And just like that, the tune has and may continue to change for hockey pundits as the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins progresses. Many predicted Pittsburgh would simply out-skill, out-chance, and out-score the Bruins mercilessly from the time the puck dropped in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That’s not how things turned out on Saturday night.
David Krejci netted two goals, Nathan Horton added one of his own, and Tuukka Rask registered his first career NHL playoff shutout as Boston defeated Pittsburgh 3-0.
Predictably, we’re now hearing how Boston’s physical play served as a persistent magnetic field, forcing Pittsburgh to stray away from their brand of hockey and effectively changing the landscape of the game.
There are a few problems with this theory. For starters, it gives no credit to the Bruins.
When teams prepare for the Boston Bruins, they expect a physical game. They expect things to be tightly contested, with lots of hitting and lots of battling in the corners. That would explain why Pittsburgh came out flying and outhit Boston consistently throughout the game (officially registering 34 hits to Boston’s 19).
Nothing happened early on to suggest that Boston was controlling the play, or making the Penguins adjust to their game plan. Pittsburgh had already begun their attempt to “out-Bruin” the Bruins.
This continued throughout the first two periods and even after the final buzzer in period two. First with Crosby challenging noted tough guy Tuukka Rask, before going after the 6’9″ (human?) monster Zdeno Chara while, surely just by coincidence, standing safely behind referees Chris Rooney and Brad Watson.
Just prior to that exchange Evgeni Malkin, in all his visored glory, goaded Patrice Bergeron into his second career NHL fight.
The Penguins were a frustrated and aggitated group, but it may have had more to do with their own lack of production rather than any physical tactics from the Boston Bruins. Through 60 minutes, the Penguins turned the puck over eight times (compared to Boston’s lone giveaway). Their power play, predicted by many to be the turning point of this series, went 0/4. They lost 66% of faceoffs, and couldn’t solve Tuukka Rask on the way to their first scoreless showing in 96 games.
There’s no doubting the skill of the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, but the Boston Bruins aren’t exactly the Washington Generals going up against the Harlem Globetrotters in this match-up. The Bruins locker room is filled with Stanley Cup champion players who know what it takes to win, and that means much more than simply beating up an opponent.
So let’s try to avoid the “Boston Bullies Their Way To Victory” story lines, at least for the time being. The Penguins were indeed thrown off their game, but it appeared to be more out of frustration than intimidation. The Boston Bruins earned their Game 1 victory, and they’ll have the chance to go up 2-0 with another solid performance this evening.